Opinion: The Marketing Society Forum

Will Google Instant change the way in which brands approach search?

Google claims its new search tool, which presents updated results as each letter of a search term is typed, reduces average response times and expects it to have a profound impact on user behaviour MAYBE: John Kinder, Managing director, Golley Slater

Nobody can yet be sure exactly what impact Google Instant will have on search marketing, but its launch has raised some interesting points.

Google believes it will offer a positive user experience that connects the consumer to the most relevant result quicker, by speeding up results by two to five seconds per search.

Users are therefore more likely to refine their search before looking outside the top results, creating a more competitive environment and an increase in volume around second-tier keywords. This means brands may need to pay particular attention to these terms and have them as an integral part of their keyword strategy.

Performance metrics will no doubt fluctuate as a result of Instant, and the changing value of an impression may also affect a brand's click-through rate, although this is likely to be relatively universal.

The change will certainly mean greater focus for brands on top organic results, as users continue to refine and focus on the above-the-fold listings.

NO: Amanda Davie, Managing director, Reform

Google Instant is essentially a functional change to make search easier and more relevant to users. As a result, the day-to-day strategies of SEO and PPC won't change hugely, but there will be a greater emphasis on understanding search behaviour.

It's too early to tell how brands will need to react - it isn't yet affecting queries used, but keywords may need to be altered as users become familiar with the system. Brands that use generic words as part of their brand or brands will potentially benefit because searchers will be entering those terms.

Another aspect to consider is, for example, that a user searching for Sanyo will get Samsung (as the latter has more historical query volume), so for some brands this will need to be pre-empted in search marketing strategy.

Google Instant doesn't change how brands go about the day-to-day management of search, but it is bound to influence search behaviour. Businesses need to understand how, so they can adjust their keyword targeting accordingly.

YES: Rory Paterson, Digital director, MediaCom Edinburgh

As is often the case with a major release from a global consumer technology behemoth, the gloves quickly came off, opinions were formed and provocative statements flowed. We read that Google Instant 'makes SEO irrelevant', 'makes SEO dead-on relevant', 'plans to slam you with ads', 'may make you click on more ads', 'will make big brands bigger' and 'will save 350 million hours a year' - an easily predicted mix of sensationalism, hysteria and counterbalance.

What the crystal ball won't tell us is whether Google Instant will result in a user behaviour change - which, while not impossible, is a big ask. Consider what happened when Facebook altered its homepage, Google Wave tried to convince us email would be different if invented today and Google Buzz asked consumers to change how they manage and consume their social feeds.

Instant probably will change the way brands approach search, but the consumer and the data their actions generate will dictate if, how and when. Knee-jerk reactions prior to confirmation of the facts must come with a health warning.

YES: Hugh Bishop, Chairman, Meteorite

Everything Google does is aimed at making search more relevant to users. If a brand's search strategy is based on the same principles, there's no need for radical action in the short term.

Instant is designed to shorten the time before users click through and results are returned before the search string is completed, so big generic terms will become more valuable. For example, a phrase like 'hotel in Paris' will start to return hotel-related results as soon as the 'l' is typed, so brands will pay more for generic terms like 'hotel' to steal this early traffic.

As savvy consumers will adapt to use even longer terms, Google Instant won't mean the death of the long-tail - in fact, those really relevant phrases will be even more important.

The longer term is harder to call - how brands will harness the 'predictive' power of Instant isn't so clear. Smart brands will be taking a good look at their search data and adapting, slowly.


The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to inspiring bolder marketing leadership.


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